Sponsored Content- Adam Partridge Auctioneers is pleased to be selling the largest collection of studio ceramics ever auctioned in the UK, with more than 1000 lots and some 1500 pots from around the world on sale. The Shurzs participated in the annual NCECA conference for many years and collected numerous contemporary works in clay through their participation in NCECA’s Collectors Tour. Visit this link to view the turning page catalogue of the collection.
The sale of the Leonard and Alison Shurz collection of studio ceramics is truly a global event with works by British, North American, European and Asian makers. It is so large it will take place over two days, with lots sold by international time zones.
Starting on the evening of Thursday 8th October at 5pm UK time (so daytime in the US) the sale of over 400 lots by US ceramic artists is timed to appeal to the American market. The auction continues all day Friday 9th October with over 60 lots of contemporary Japanese and Korean ceramics, 75 lots by European and Middle Eastern artists and concluding with over 470 lots by British and Irish artists.
Born in New York, Leonard Shurz came to London in 1964 where he met Alison, originally from Manchester. They were married in 1972 and moved out to Digswell, Welwyn Garden City, to a modern house with more room for children …. and pots.
Leonard had already started to acquire Lucie Rie’s work and that of Hans Coper, Bernard Leach, Gillian Lowndes, Ruth Duckworth and others, and also works by Scandinavian artists like Berndt Friberg and Alf Jarnestad. The couple, however, stopped collecting for a few years while their children were growing up, and eventually sold the Copers and most of the Ries in the 1980s, initially through Sotheby’s and later Christie’s (after Sotheby’s broke one of their Hans Copers!)
But after the children left home, there was more space … and more time to collect.
The collection grew gradually at first, with an initial focus on Native American pottery, but exponentially over the last 10-15 years with annual visits to America, especially to NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) conferences and US galleries, UK fairs and galleries like Goldmark and Contemporary Ceramics where they were regular buyers.
Anthony Schaller, owner of Schaller Gallery in Michigan writes: ‘So many times when the phone would ring, I’d look and see ‘UK call’ and hoped that I was going to hear Leonard’s eloquent voice. We always had a wonderful discussion about the pieces he was interested in purchasing. He’d ask me to hold the work until he and Alison came to the US to visit family in Colorado or to the NCECA conference which moved around from city to city. I’d either ship lots of pots to Colorado or to their hotel during the NCECA conference. Leonard was always sure to ask me to ship the work so he could just ‘check it in’ when they flew home. The last time I shipped to Leonard and Alison during a NCECA conference I knew they’d be buying more pieces at the various exhibitions, so I shipped a few extra boxes, packing materials, tape, scissors and markers. Soon after I received a call from them, they were just laughing and laughing, then said, “you know us all too well”. I miss those conversations and special little things that transpired throughout the friendship we forged around collecting ceramics’.
Mike Goldmark, owner of Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham, writes: ‘Leonard and Alison were frequent visitors to Uppingham. Leonard was one of Goldmark’s most exceptional pot customers, buying regularly, with a fiendish eye for quality’.
Marta Donaghey and Claire Dixon of Contemporary Ceramics, London, writes: ‘Leonard and Alison were longstanding, very loyal customers and friends of Contemporary Ceramics and the Craft Potters Association. Their passion and enthusiasm for ceramics never waned and it was always a joy to see Leonard bounding through our door armed with special padded bags that he hoped and usually did fill with pots! Leonard and Alison were a team and purchases were always a joint decision after much discussion. Their taste was varied and eclectic, but they were extremely knowledgeable as well as open and curious. We very much miss the laughs and chats we shared together’.
Jason Wood, Adam Partridge’s Specialist Consultant in Studio Ceramics who is curating the sale writes: ‘Leonard and Alison had bought from some of our past auctions so I knew of them but had no idea of the size and range of the collection until I visited the house in Digswell in January 2020. Even before entering, the collection announced itself in the form of an Alan Wallwork tile fashioned as a door knob but nothing quite prepared me for the sheer quantity (and quality) that lay inside. Every room was stacked high with exceptional ceramics from leading makers from around the world’.
The Shurzs had a particular interest in American wood-fired pottery and amassed probably the largest collection of such works outside the US. Highlights include over 50 works by the Hawaiian potter Clayton Amemiya, some 30 works by Indiana-based potter Dick Lehman, and a host of others – quite literally an A-Z of the current American studio ceramics scene.
Among the Asian contemporary ceramicists, highlights include groups of works by the Korean artist Lee Kang-hyo, while Japanese artists Ken Matsuzaki, Natsu Nishiyama and Shikamaru Takeshita are also well represented.
Five works by Berndt Friberg head the European and Middle Eastern section, including other renowned representatives of the illustrious Scandinavian ceramic design movement of the 20th century, along with more contemporary works by potters like Anne Metter Hjortshoj from Denmark. The collection also includes rare works by Iraqi potter Saad Shakir and the Iranian artist Shabanali Ghorbani. France and Germany are also well represented with some 35 slipware pots by Jean-Nicolas Gérard, as well as works by the wood-firers Markus Klausmann and Uwe Löellmann.
Highlights among the British and Irish artists are five works by Lucie Rie, including a rare porcelain sgraffito bottle acquired from Rie’s personal collection, two small sculptures by Ruth Duckworth and three early works by Gillian Lowndes. The vast majority, however, are works by living UK artists and reads like a roll-call of the current British scene. Well represented are Richard Batterham, Svend Bayer, Clive Bowen, Chris Carter, Nic Collins, Mike Dodd, Jack Doherty, Lisa Hammond, Akiko Hirai, Jim Malone, Phil Rogers, Ruthanne Tudball and Rachel Wood, and many, many more.
Mike Dodd, with over 60 pots in the collection, writes: ‘You couldn’t help being impressed with Leonard and Alison’s infectious delight in handling and talking about pots. I was fortunate to see their impressive collection at their home when I was invited to share a meal after one of the Hatfield shows had ended. Plied with many insightful questions, I won’t easily forget their shared enthusiasm and interest’.
Jim Malone, with some 30 pots in the collection, writes: ‘Leonard had a good “eye” for a pot. He had that enthusiasm for pots that I remember collectors had when I was a lot younger, together with an understanding of the “qualities” inherent in a good pot. I’ll miss him’.
Ruthanne Tudball, with over 30 pots in the collection and a fellow American living and working in the UK, writes: ‘It was always a joy when Leonard and Alison showed up at a ceramic event. You could be assured that Leonard would want to know what your newest creation was and what the inspiration behind it was. He had an eagle eye and usually knew before I showed him. Then an animated conversation would start with Leonard curious to know where in the world I had been doing workshops and what had come of the experience. He was particularly good at story telling with expressive hands emphasizing all he said. We talked and laughed a lot whenever we met’.
As well as being very knowledgeable and supportive of potters it is worth noting that the Shurzs were especially encouraging of younger artists, both in the US and UK, and bought not out of sympathy but because they liked the work and enjoyed meeting the makers, sometimes driving for hours through the American North West to seek out new talent (with the consequential headache of how to ship their purchases back to the UK). The collection therefore contains many up-and-coming names that will be new to some collectors but definitely ones to watch for the future.